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I was saddened by the passing of Clarence Clemons this weekend but couldn't comment on it before now because I was out playing my own saxophone all weekend.......I think a few words are in order.
 
So, I'll bet if you scoured the internet and looked at the pages of the many thousands of saxophone player's websites and MySpaces you would rarely find the name of one "Clarence Clemons" listed under "Influences." You'll see  John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, King Curtis, etc.....yet hardly ever a mention of Clarence. But truth be told, there isn't a sax player in any genre since the '70's that hasn't been touched by, and yes "influenced" by, Clarence Clemons.....and that most definitely includes me.
 
I can't recall how many times in a studio recording session or band situation that the topic of Clarence Clemons came up, especially in the 80's and 90's when Rock and Roll still featured saxophone prominently. It would usually go something like this;   You're trying to nail the perfect solo, but the look on the face of the producer or your bandmates after each take tells you something just isn't right. So you ask, "What is it that you need to hear?" As they stammer and struggle to find the proper words to describe it...."It needs more, uhm, Uhhh, some more energy, or uhhhh, Geez maybe some more rawness, uhhhh.... Then to break the inevitable awkward silent pause that follows, you simply reply....."Clarence Clemons?"......Which would instantly be greeted with an enthusiastic, EXACTLY!!!!!!!!
 
Now, a lot of players probably resented that their own approach wasn't sufficient, and perhaps that's at the root of the purposeful ignoring of mention of Clarence Clemons by most players? But ultimately you'd take a swig of beer, bear down and go at it like the Big Man, as best you could......and soon you'd realize that this was always the way to go in the first place. Likewise, when you you played the songs like Born to Run, Rosalita, Pink Cadillac, Dancing In The Dark, as I did for many years, you just would not even attempt to reinvent the wheel. You played the Big Man's solos and parts because they are every bit as important to the song as the melody and lyrics. It simply could not be the song without them.
 
The thing about it is.....Clarence wasn't a complicated or cerebral player. He was just a big man with a humungous sound, a huge heart and a total commitment to every note he played. He had his own voice on his instrument, and that's the hardest thing for any player to achieve. When you can hear 2 notes and instantly recognize a player, that's the mark of a great artist. His voice was distinct, loud and clear.
 
In truth, the Big Man's sound was the perfect foil for a stack of Marshall Amps. That sound was every bit as powerful as an overdriven Les Paul guitar, yet it retained the passion and soul of a saxophone. THAT is what Rock and Roll saxophone is all about. "Clarence Clemons" is what Rock and Roll Saxophone is all about.....reaching the last row of the upper deck of Madison Square Garden with a powerful, withering sound. You may be a big man, or just a little guy like me who plays sax, but when you play in the style of Clarence Clemons you feel 7' tall and 4' wide like him.
 
Clarence's passing is a loss on many levels. It's a loss because of what he had yet to play, but even more so because of what it represents......the closing of yet another chapter of our lives and something vital from our youth. Like with the passing of Keith Moon, John Bonham and John Lennon, the music may go on but no matter what, you know that things will never be the same again.
 
So this is my heartfelt thank you to Clarence Clemons, and my personal acknowledgement that, yes, he was in fact one of my influences and his music will live on in me as long as I continue to play.
 
RIP Big Man, but not for too long.......There's a Rock and Roll party somewhere in the great beyond that's about to commence, and I'm sure Clarence will be there to rock the house!
 

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Very well written and so true, I've heard people rag on his style for not being.. well.. complex, but then that's what makes him who was, Clarence's playing was all about Rock and Roll and feeling. God bless him for being in that band at that time and playing the way he did, in the future when the question "who was the greatest R&R sax player" is asked his name will be one of the first (if not the first) mentioned.
 
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